Investors, advertisers—the business people loved Stickybits. Chasen quickly realized that the original idea was technically out of reach (the app was never going to work without the stickers), and so he agreed to refine the product as a straightforward business application more akin to what advertisers wanted. You could scan a pint of Ben & Jerry's and win a T-shirt, for example.
But users didn't really care. In the press, Goldstein and Chasen avoided answering questions about user numbers, hoping that deals with major brands would attract more, and more engaged, users. But they knew.
Then, during a fateful company softball game, Chasen dove for a fly ball, landed wrong, and broke his collarbone. Confined to his apartment for a week, he reflected. A chunk of Stickybits's funding remained—a few hundred thousand—but the product bored users. And him. This wasn't working. He called Goldstein. He had an idea for a music site.
In an e-mail to Stickybits's investors, the pair explained Turntable and gave them a choice: They could take back what money remained or stick with them. All except one kept the faith. Chasen's announcement, made the day the staff returned from the winter holiday, was abrupt: The developers, with one exception, would cease work on Stickybits immediately. The business side would wind down client relationships. Left unsaid: All except a skeleton crew would soon leave the company.
Chasen spent that spring coding. With no product to sell, Goldstein took time off to travel and paint. He liked the new pace. They agreed Chasen would be sole founder; Goldstein would be chairman. "I had convinced myself that start-ups are a young person's game, that I should get away from the Silicon Valley echo chamber," Goldstein says.
Alone in New York save for two employees, and eventually just one, Chasen cranked on Turntable with no outside suggestions, no business rationale—nothing but his own vision of a cartoony little concert room where bears and cats played songs together.
The site was ready in May. After TechCrunch wrote about a Turntable listening party Goldstein put together, word spread. Within a month, Turntable had 100,000 registrations.
Thrilled, Goldstein bounded back into fundraising mode. He raised $7 million that summer. Cleverly, he also reserved $500,000 in equity, which he offered in chunks of $10,000 to $50,000 to musicians and celebrities—Kutcher, Fallon, even Questlove (a real DJ!)—piquing the blogosphere.
Chasen, too, was thrilled. To him, it proved that if he stuck to his instincts and resisted business concerns, he could make something great. He grew more confident, stubborn, and protective of Turntable. Coding came before meetings or e-mails—even those from investors. Goldstein, rankled, pestered him to stay in touch. "It's relationship management...you're making investors feel useful," says Goldstein. "It's not like writing a bar mitzvah thank-you to your aunt."
Chasen reiterated that these were his decisions; he was the founder. Turntable's value was the website-the product he made.
"I'm an artist; I want credit for the things I create," Chasen told me over sandwiches in Austin, after a photo shoot he had only grudgingly agreed to let Goldstein appear in.
Of course, Chasen developed Turntable in Stickybits's offices, while receiving a Stickybits paycheck and working with two Stickybits employees.
"He had an idea that he owned 100 percent emotionally, in a company that he owned far less than that economically," says Goldstein. "That's the tension."
In the green room before Turntable's first SXSW panel, it's easy to see how months of this personality friction has worn on these two. When Goldstein arrives, he asks to see Chasen's 10-minute presentation, the one he wanted to make alone before the panel discussion and Q&A.
Chasen barely looks up from his laptop: "You can watch it onstage. I have work to do."
Goldstein chats with the others for a while, but then he can't help himself. You should start off by addressing the traffic drop-off, he tells Chasen. Maybe sort of explain that we're growing again.
Chasen shoots daggers at him: "That's a defensive position. That's such a different story from what users are feeling right now."
"You just need to be ready for the question."
"That's fine. But telling me to come out with that? And I already have my response to that question."
A perky stagehand interrupts: "Turntable...are you guys ready to go?"
Chasen plans to enter the room wearing a Turntable T-shirt (slogan on the front: "I Listen to Bands That Don't Even Exist Yet") and one of the giant avatar heads the company had made before SXSW, $1,500 contraptions built on top of baseball helmets. Backstage with the head on, he mugs with the stage crew, picking at the front of it. "Do I have something in my teeth?" he jokes. A few minutes later, he's more serious, and concerned about the size of the audience. "How packed is it?" he mutters through the little air vent.
At 12:30 p.m. sharp, a masked Chasen takes the stage. Polite, somewhat bemused chuckles ripple through the crowd. I count 428 people in the audience, just over half capacity.
Then the Twitter messages, inevitable at any SXSW event, begin.
"Last panel for me and first that hasn't been full," writes @whatsfordina. "Maybe different if it was last summer?"
Chasen removes the avatar head and starts his presentation. He lists some of the most popular songs on the site. No. 1 is a remix of "Lights" by Ellie Goulding.
"That's because the last time people used turntable regularly was when Lights was popular. Zing!" writes @ajt.
It strikes me how bizarre this is. To a SXSW audience, Turntable is already past its prime, even though during last year's conference, the product didn't yet exist.
Chasen continues. Since launch, Turntable has 130 million songs played, 65 million Awesomes, and 5.28 hours of music played per minute. Which, if you do the math, is just 317 people on the site listening at any given time. (Most traffic comes during the workday; there is a lot of dead air at night.) After four minutes of stat-rattling, he delivers the news about Turntable's record-company agreements. Licensing deals like these are considered major accomplishments for any music site. Retweets of the news wash away the snark.
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